Choosing and buying seeds for the year ahead is an exciting task for a gardener and during the dark days of winter when being stuck indoors is the only option, flicking through seed catalogues is a welcome reminder that spring will return. There are many seed suppliers to choose from, many of which are specialists in their field. Here we’ve put together a list of our favourites, divided into flowers, vegetables and wild flowers to give you a head start on your gardening year.
The Chiltern Seeds catalogue is always tempting with a selection of inspiring images. Cultivar choice is excellent and descriptions always helpful.
An extensive range of flower and vegetable seeds, including potato, onion and garlic sets. Plantsman Graham Rice writes a regular blog for the website, which provides useful discussion on some aspect of Mr Fothergill’s offerings.
If you’ve visited this iconic garden, you’ll have been delighted by its sheer exuberance, colour and range of plants through the season. The nursery offers flower seeds from its own stock chosen by the staff and students as notable. Seed is then harvested fresh by hand and supplied in glassine bags.
Grower and owner Benjamin Ranyard trials a selection of flowers at this field in Cornwall. He then sells a range of seed specifically for the cutting patch – sometimes working with florists to ensure the best range. The Higgledy website also has plenty of growing tips and a monthly planting guide.
Parsley seed packet © Picturenow/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Plant World Seeds
Extensive range of seeds for flowers and vegetables but also trees and shrubs and grasses – many of them rare and unusual. It ships around the world.
Plants of Distinction
A small, family-run business based in Suffolk that has built up a good range of both flower and vegetables that rivals some of the larger, more commercial seed companies.
Sarah is renowned for her carefully curated collections of traditional flowers for her cutting garden. Her seed selection is relatively small but you can be assured that those she has included are good ones.
Plantswoman Derry Watkins runs a fantastic nursery in a hidden valley near Bath. Her plant selection is impeccable and you’ll always find something of interest there. Added to which, she sells a range of flower seed too. Of particular note is her fresh seed.
Thompson & Morgan
Established in 1855, Thompson & Morgan has a wide range of seed for flowers and vegetables, regularly winning awards for its offerings. You’ll find plenty of choice on cultivars and good descriptions.
Another of the big all-rounders with a wide range of seed – many offered as part of special deals – so worth keeping an eye out for seasonal promotions. Unwins is best known for its range of sweet peas, and has an ongoing breeding programme and extensive sweet pea trials each year.
Heritage Seed Library
Run by Garden Organic, the Heritage Seed Library is a members-only resource that offers a selection of rare, hard-to-get-hold-of, heritage vegetable seed – many of which have been lost to standard seed catalogues.
Jekka’s Herb Farm
If you are growing for flavour then herbs are an essential, and probably your best guide as to which to grow is award-winner Jekka McVicar. The nursery stocks 140 varieties of herb, with notables including winter purslane as an excellent winter salad crop; summer savoury, excellent with all forms of beans and pulses; and blue hyssop for its savoury minty/thyme flavour – and pollinator popular blue flowers.
Much of Kings Seeds stock comes from its own 300-acre farm. Good selection of vegetables and flower cultivars, including an organic range of vegetable seed. It also stocks the range from Suffolk Herbs.
A good all-rounder, with plenty of choice covering a range of different vegetables. The duo packs, with two complementary cultivars, are a great way to discover more of the variety available within one vegetable type and benefit from an extended harvesting season or variations in flavour.
An independent seed merchant with good selection sourced from some of the best seed producers. Anyone looking to current food trends should check the sections on crops best suited to baby leaf and microgreens harvesting. Although wholesale, Moles Seeds will supply anyone looking for larger quantities, so great for smallholding owners and gardening groups.
An initiative was set up on the belief that the future of food needs to be rooted in a diversity of genetics and wildlife. All seed are from open pollinated varieties, adapted to organic growing systems. Finalists in the 2017 BBC Food and Farming Awards.
A 2019 RHS Master Grower, Pennard Plants sells one of the largest selections of edible plants, heritage and heirloom seeds, fruits and herbs. All the stock is UK grown, many of it by themselves in their Victorian walled garden in Somerset. For those keen to grow their own plant protein, Pennard stocks amaranthus and quinoa seeds.
Everything in Real Seeds’ offering has been chosen only after trialling to check its success both in the vegetable garden and in the kitchen. All seed are open pollinated (non-hybrid) so you can collect and resow your own seed from one year to the next.
Variety of flowers seed packet © Picturenow/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Sea Spring Seeds
Every vegetable cultivar has been tested before it’s included in the catalogue. For 2019 it is encouraging us to try ‘mange tout’ chilli peppers. Cultivars such as ‘Hungarian Hot Wax’ and ‘Frigitello’ can be harvested small and either fried or grilled to be eaten whole in the same way as Padrón peppers.
Seeds of Italy
Paolo Arrigo who is a passionate seedsmen has declared a climate emergency on seed biodiversity. “In just 100 years, 94 per cent of the world’s heritage veg has gone,” says Paolo. Franchi focuses on the remaining six per cent, promoting them for their taste and regional diversity and including cultivars from the Slow Food Ark of Taste, the register of foods at risk of being lost.
Nice, clear website that makes it easy to find what you want from Suttons’ all-round range of seeds. It also works with ethnobotanist James Wong to offer a range of vegetables and edible flower seeds that James has chosen for their focus on flavour and high nutritional value.
A good range of vegetables for the organic gardener along with helpful, clear, growing advice. Tamar Organics supports charity Joliba Trust working in central Mali to help fund horticultural projects.
Among the range of vegetables offered by Thomas Etty are 52 perennial vegetables – an option for grow your own often overlooked. Examples such as sea orach, tuberous pea, perennial broccoli and skirret are worth having a look at, alongside more unusual veg choices, such as the pink ‘Roscoff’ onion from Brittany with its unique flavour good for eating raw or cooked and ‘Tall Telephone’ pea yielding eight to ten peas per large pod.
There is always something to look forward to in Chiltern’s herb and vegetable selections. This year it has included British basil – selected specifically for growing in the UK and climbing bean ‘Cobra’, encouragingly resistant to a variable British summer. Look out for beetroot ‘Crapaudine’, new to Chiltern Seeds. This is one of the oldest beetroot cultivars, carrot shaped and with an oddly rough skin (resembling its namesake derived from the French for toad). Underneath is a richly coloured flesh with superior flavour.
Tomato seed packet © Picturenow/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Run by committed botanists and ecologists to promote the importance not just of growing more wildflowers but of working with nature. Its wildflower and grass mixes are grouped by habitat, such as meadow, and then by soil type so you get the right mix of species for your area. Excellent whether you’re creating a large meadow area or simply want to increase the biodiversity in your garden.
Seed mixes for annual and perennial meadow-style planting. These were originally developed by Nigel Dunnett from his work at the University of Sheffield and are aimed to provide impact of colour and lots of nectar-rich flower
If you are looking for recommended, locally suited, unusual cultivars of flowers and vegetables, try researching community seed swapping events. These are a great opportunity to meet other growers, hear first-hand of growing experiences and discover new favourites.
Millennium seed bank
And finally, a word for the wonder of seeds and the biodiversity they represent. The Millennium Seed Bank, at Wakehurst Place in Sussex, is Kew’s project to conserve 25 per cent of the world’s seeds by 2020 to ensure against future extinction. See the website to find out more and discover the amazing science behind seeds.
Words Sorrel Everton